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May 11, 2017

Book Notes - Robert Repino "D'Arc"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Robert Repino's novel D'Arc is an impressive successor to Mort(e), shifting the focus from Morte to his partner Sheba in this fabulous dystopian tale.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Fantastic...Well-drawn characters and emotional heft are hallmarks of this unusual series about the power of myth, love, and redemption in a dangerous time.”

In his own words, here is Robert Repino's Book Notes music playlist for his novel D'Arc:

D'Arc is the sequel to my 2015 novel Mort(e), which tells the story of a global war between sentient animals and humans. In the aftermath of the conflict, a cat named Mort(e) goes on a journey to find a lost friend, a dog named Sheba.

Spoiler alert: he finds her. But things are not the same, even when Mort(e) tries to recreate their old lives as pets. Told partly from Sheba's perspective, D'Arc is a novel about her journey out of the shadows and toward a new destiny, one that will run headlong into the war with the humans.

What follows are the songs I would consider the soundtrack for the book. Some inspired me while I wrote, while others fit with a particular scene, character, or theme. Some very mild spoilers are included. I hope you enjoy it.

"Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings," Father John Misty

The opening line sums up Sheba and Mort(e)'s odd interspecies relationship: "Jesus Christ, girl/What are people gonna think?" When they are first reunited, Sheba is so traumatized by what she has experienced that Mort(e) fears he may never reach her. On their secluded farm, they try to rekindle their love, made even more complicated by Mort(e)'s status as a "choker"—a eunuch who was neutered by his masters before the uprising against the humans. But Sheba is not the person Mort(e) remembers, and he quickly realizes that unrequited love—as painful as it can be—is far easier than the real thing.

"7", Prince

Prince was one of the musicians who left us while I was hurrying to finish this book, and I listened to this song on a loop for a few days after his passing. The song has this crazy optimism, suggesting that love can somehow lead to some beautiful future for everyone: "There will be a new city with streets of gold/The young so educated they never grow old." It fits loosely with the fish-cephalopod character known as Taalik, a new mutation who is the heir to the Queen's empire. At his side is a harem of faithful lovers, fearsome warriors and military advisors who are prepared to give their lives for him—but who also guide his decisions when they have to.

"Sock It to Me," Missy Elliott and Da Brat

Mort(e) trains Sheba to learn the brutal fighting techniques of the Red Sphinx, the legendary guerilla unit notorious for killing humans. This is the song I imagine playing as part of a montage in which Mort(e) shows Sheba the best ways to break a kneecap or collapse an Adam's apple.

"Feeling Good", Nina Simone

The beavers of Lodge City are known for their singing ability, and their music, like that of Nina Simone, combines a sense of mourning with a stubborn gratitude for what they have. When a strange creature lays waste to the city, a husky named Falkirk—who is loyal to the humans—is dispatched to investigate. There, he hears the beavers' melancholy lamentations, which call on all members of their species to return to the rivers and lodges where they belong.

"Pedestrian at Best", Courtney Barnett

"If the job of messiah is still open," Mort(e) tells Falkirk, "I'm not interested." This foisting of godhood upon Mort(e) is a persistent theme in the book. I imagine this song playing in his head while he tells people that he just wants to be left alone. "Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint you/Tell me I'm exceptional, I promise to exploit you."

"This Beautiful Idea", Badly Drawn Boy

"If you asked me to guess your name/I would say, ‘Don't ever ask me again.'" Like almost all of the uplifted animals, Sheba chooses a new name: D'Arc, named after Jeanne D'Arc. Mort(e) is baffled. Falkirk worries about what the name implies. "We have enough people around here who claim to speak for God," he tells her. "And then you name yourself after a human warrior who got herself killed doing that very thing." But this is Sheba's decision. And as D'Arc, she ventures into the human territory, without Mort(e) to guide her.

"Red Cow", mewithoutYou

I think of this as a song fit for a surreal road trip. For D'Arc, the journey from the quiet, isolated ranch to the holy city of Hosanna has a similar eeriness, a shedding of the past in favor of an uncertain future. One lyric in particular reminds me of the inscrutable nature of the humans and their animal allies: "A shape was roughly human, it was only roughly human!" These beings are unlike anyone D'Arc has ever encountered, and everything she knows about them comes from Mort(e)'s bitter war stories.

"One of the Living", Tina Turner

In another subplot, a bitter war of wills develops in Hosanna between Wawa, the canine head of security, and Grace Braga, the human who protects the Prophet, the city's spiritual leader. A former pit fighter, Wawa now has to navigate the tricky interspecies politics, even while Grace ridicules her inferior status. Both of them are survivors, astonished that they have lived through the war, and yet unwilling to let the conflict go. (Yes, I stole this song from Mad Max.)

"Adore", Savages

This one falls under the category of songs I played hundreds of times while writing D'Arc. The singer asks, almost sarcastically, "Is it human to adore life?" The answer the song gives is a resounding yes, over and over, louder and louder, before ending too abruptly. Of course, D'Arc is not human. But whereas revenge has driven Mort(e), D'Arc finds another way, an embrace of life, and a desire to explore and better herself. Still, even the more peaceful path has consequences, both good and bad.

"Let Me In Your Heart Again," Queen

Look, we needed a good love song, okay? One that aches with sadness but still has some hope. It's Queen. Just listen to it.

"Heroes", David Bowie

In the early morning hours of 10 January 2016, I sent the first draft of this novel to my editor, barely beating a deadline that had been looming for a year. I was exhausted, and fully aware that another year's worth of tedious edits lay ahead. Still, it was a huge milestone, one that did not come easily. And then, when my clock radio sounded a few hours later, I heard the news that David Bowie had died, and all of those good feelings deflated from me in an instant. But as the day progressed, several websites and radio stations saved people like me by mentioning or playing this song, the perfect song for D'Arc. Two heroes, two lovers, survey what they've left behind, what is to come, and how it has changed them. The image may not have fixed things, but it made it all a little better.

Robert Repino and D'Arc links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Mort(e).

also at Largehearted Boy:

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